Writer-director Onur Tukel’s That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes is a black-and-white, French-language psychological thriller about reaching the absolute end of your sanity. What it sometimes lacks in traditional coherency, it makes up for in style and audacity. It is an impressive and captivating piece of thriller filmmaking that captures a specific tone and runs with it.
Leonard (Franck Raharinosy) is a French cook living in New York, scraping by on an unforgiving kitchen job under an abusive boss (Max Casella) who routinely tosses creative epithets about his employee’s cooking. Leonard’s sauce makes him want to vomit, his food tastes like cancer, etc. All that kind of Gordon Ramsay-style stuff without the glitz and glamour of a celebrity chef performing for the cameras. On top of his bad job, Leonard has a decaying relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Marie (Nora Arnezeder), with whom he still lives at her charitable mercy. It’s no wonder Leonard feels depressed. Whether it was first because of the break-up or the job, well … when you’re that low, it’s hard to remember when you fell off the precipice.
The apartment he and Marie once shared is covered in large-scale prints of photos taken by her father, Dennis, a successful art photographer whose presence in Leonard’s life weighed heavily despite never showing up to bless their relationship … until she leaves for a business trip and announces Dennis will be staying in the apartment while she’s away. Leonard can either share the space with his ex’s dad or leave the apartment. The choice is his, so to speak, as if there was even a choice at all. Above all things, Leonard fears homelessness, an externalization of his interior spiritual desolation.
Whether the events that transpire between Leonard and Denis in Eyes actually happen in a physical sense is relatively up for interpretation. It is, after all, a psychological thriller. Audiences in search of concrete answers or even a sense of action might be disappointed. Tukel’s focus is on using visual images and metaphors to create a real sense of Leonard’s mental decay. Does he really come across Dennis filming a homoerotic photoshoot in the apartment one night? What does it mean when he sees his friends’ and family’s eyes cloud up, their skin melting away? Does he really destroy everything he touches? What’s up with the mime who mocks him on the street?
Tukel provides some answers, but for the most part, it’s an experience you kind of have to connect with on a tonal level. Low-budget psychological thrillers often fall into the trap of trying to make a specific statement or tell a specific three-act story. Here, everything boils down to Leonard’s mental state, the story of someone just falling endlessly. The only color here is when he remembers the life he led before the mistake he made that ended his relationship. Everything after is stark, visually and emotionally, the color of life stripped out of it. Eyes isn’t a movie that will make you feel good, but it’s an arresting experience from start to finish by a filmmaker confident enough to trust his audience to interpret his work how they see fit.